2012 Olympics Wrap-Up

Iran’s Ehsan Naser Lashgari celebrates after defeating Turkey’s Ibrahim Bolukbasi for the bronze medal of the Men’s 84Kg Freestyle wrestling. Iran emerged as the regional leader at this year’s Games. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (BRITAIN)

The Closing Ceremony is complete, and the athletes are headed home. For the Middle East and North Africa, this year’s Olympic Games had its fair share of ups and downs, from controversies over costumes and last-minute disqualifications to the emergence of new superstars and the ground gained by female athletes from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In the end, athletes from ten countries across the region took home medals, with Iran taking a clear lead.

The final medal count for the Middle East and North Africa

Iran placed 17th in the overall medal count, the country’s best since the 1956 Melbourne Games, when it placed 14th. Tunisia achieved a personal best, with three medals, as did Qatar, which took home two. The Olympics brought disappointment for athletes from some countries in the region, however. Israel, which had consistently medaled since 1992, did not have any wins this year, nor did Lebanon, which hasn’t medaled since 1980. Iraq, Yemen, Libya, the UAE, Syria, and Palestine also went home empty-handed.

The London Games should be remembered for its unique milestones. In the first year that Women’s Boxing was allowed, two North African countries (Tunisia and Morocco) sent competitors. Egypt sent its largest female delegation ever, including participants in synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics, both firsts for the country. Turkey—which has a bid for the 2020 Olympics—sent 18 more men than women to London. And women from the region qualified for the finals in countless events.

All in all, 2012 should be seen as a great year for the region’s athletes, with a hope for even more progress to come in 2016.

Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi Fueling Women’s Rights Debate

Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia holds her national flag after placing second in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase final 2011 IAAF World Athletics Championships. REUTERS/Phil Noble (SOUTH KOREA)

Tunisia’s first female medalist, Habiba Ghribi, is fueling the debate over women’s rights in Tunisia, reports France 24. Ghribi, 24, brought home silver in the 3000m steeplechase earlier this month, commenting to reporters: “This medal is for all the Tunisian people, for Tunisian women, for the new Tunisia.”

Ghribi’s comments came amidst a debate around the new constitution, which ruling party Ennadha wants to state that a woman is a “complement to the man in the family and an associate to the man in the development of the country.” A bevy of human rights groups—including the Association Tunisienne des Femmes démocrates (ATFD), Ligue tunisienne pour la défense des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH), and Fédération internationale des droits de l’Homme (FIDH)—signed a letter expressing their “categorical rejection” of the proposal, and reiterating their commitment to the principle of gender equality.

According to the France 24 report, Ghribi’s competition uniform—the typical running shorts and crop top worn by female athletes—has drawn comments on social media such as this one: “Tunisia does not need medals that come from women who are uncovered and naked. We should strip the nationality of she who has dishonoured Tunisia with her nudity and debauchery.”

But Ghribi has also been defended by Tunisian politicians such as Ibrahim Kassas, an MP, who joked on the radio that “The underpants of Habiba Ghribi have honoured us,” adding: “What have [Ennahda MP’s] underpants done for us?”

“The True Spirit of the Olympics”

A Facebook post from Iranian journalist Negar Mortazavi shows an image of US gold medalist Jordan Burroughs and Iranian silver medalist Sadegh Saeed Goudarzi with the caption “True spirit of the Olympics. Iranian and American wrestlers posing together. Let’s forget politicians for 2 seconds.”

Amidst political crises and wars—not to mention the commercialization and free speech limitations imposed on the London Games—it’s all too easy to forget what the Olympics are for. Continue reading

Saudi Runner Sarah Attar, the Second Saudi Woman to Compete at the Games

Saudi Arabia’s Sarah Attar runs in her women’s 800m round 1 heat at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 8, 2012. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN)

Although she didn’t place in her 800m heat, Sarah Attar will go down in history. Along with judoka Wojdan Shaharkhani, who competed on August 3, Attar is part of the first group of women from Saudi Arabia to ever compete in the Olympic Games.

The young, US-raised runner (whose photo—sans hijab—mysteriously disappeared from the official Olympics site earlier this week) is a student at Pepperdine University, where she majors in art. A New York Times profile of the athlete noted last month that Attar’s family requested her university remove photographs of her practicing in shorts and a tank top, which may explain the disappearance of her photo from the Olympics site.

Attar told NPR that it was a “huge honor” to represent Saudi Arabia.

Moroccan Olympic Legends Make Appearance at Medal Ceremony

Retired Moroccan athlete Hicham El Guerrouj speaks to students at the Aspire Academy in Doha April 22, 2007. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad (QATAR)

In today’s medal ceremony, a bit of history was made as legendary Moroccan athlete Hisham El Guerrouj—who won the gold medal in the Men’s 1500m event in Athens in 2004—presented Algerian gold medal winner Taoufik Makhloufi with his medal in the same event.

As @__Hisham points out on Twitter (below), this is a momentous occasion in that the two countries have been frozen in a sort of “cold war” for years over the issue of the Western Sahara. The border between the two countries has been closed since 1994, except for a brief period in early 2009 when it opened to allow a convoy carrying aid to Gaza to pass.

El Guerrouj, who is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), was joined by another Moroccan legend, hurdler Nawal El Moutawakel, who became the first female Muslim born on the African continent to become an Olympic champion when she won gold in the 1984 Games in the Women’s 400m Hurdles. El Moutawakel was also the first Moroccan to ever win a gold medal and is also a member of the IOC.

The presence of both legends has been celebrated at the Games. El Guerrouj was spotted greeting Olympic legend Roger Bannister and quoted as saying “He’s my hero. He’s our spiritual father in the 1,500 and the mile.” In an IOC press release, he was also noted as having expressed delight at the London facilities.

On Twitter, fans of the legendary athletes paid their respects:

Spotlight on Belarus-born Iranian Athlete Leila Rajabi

Iran’s Leyla Rajabi competes in the women’s shot put qualification during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 6, 2012. REUTERS/Phil Noble (BRITAIN)

You may not hear the name “Leila Rajabi” at this year’s Olympics, but keep your ears open. Though the Iranian shotputter ranked 10th in the qualification round, missing her chances at the finals, she may have been a bit thrown off: In first place in Rajabi’s group was Nadzeya Ostapchuk, a former countrywoman of Rajabi, who until 2009 represented Belarus under her birth name Tatsiana Ilyushchanka.

When Rajabi married Iranian athlete Peiman Rajabi, she converted to Islam and decided to compete for her adopted country of Iran, though she continues to train in Belarus for lack of a local coach. “Iran needs to get good and professional coaches for women in order to improve in athletics,” the athlete recently complained. “Unfortunately, [in Iran] many athletes don’t even have a coach. Under such conditions, women’s progress in athletics will be very slow”.
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Iran Leads the Region

Iran’s Behdad Salimikordasiabi (C) kisses his gold medal sorrounded by compatriot Sajjad Anoushiravani Hamlabad (L) and Russia’s Ruslan Albegov, silver and bronze respectively during the men’s +105kg Group A weightlifting competition victory ceremony at the ExCel venue during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 7, 2012. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler (BRITAIN)

Iran more than doubled its medal count on Tuesday, moving into 12th place in the medal count. 26-year-old Greco-Roman wrestler (96kg weight class) Ghasem Gholamreza Rezaei and 22-year-old weightlifter Behdad Salimikordasiabi (Men’s 105kg) both brought home gold medals on Tuesday evening, while weightlifter Sajjad Anoushiravani Hamlabad came up silver after Salimikordasiabi and Ehsan Hadadi rounded out the quartet with a silver medal in the Men’s Discus Throw event.

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First Medals for Algeria, Morocco

Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi reacts after he won the men’s 1500m final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 7, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray (BRITAIN)

More wins for North Africa on Tuesday, with Algerian and Moroccan runners Taoufik Makhloufi and Abdalaati Iguider bringing home gold and bronze respectively in the Men’s 1500m.

These are the second and third medals to go to North African athletes; the first was won yesterday by Tunisian runner Habiba Ghribi.
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Another Medal for Iran

Iran’s Navab Nasirshelal celebrates as he wins silver after a successful lift in the men’s 105kg Group A weightlifting clean and jerk competition at the ExCel venue during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 6, 2012. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor (BRITAIN)

Iran is leading in medals for the region after Navab Nasirshelal just brought home the country’s fourth, a silver in the Men’s 105kg weightlifting competition.

The young wrestler looked proud as he stood on the podium with Ukraine’s Oleksiy Torokhtiy and Poland’s Bartlomiej Wojciech Bonk, who won gold and bronze respectively. The 23-year-old Nasirshelal is from the western city of Ahvaz and trains at the Melli Haffari club with his coach, Kourosh Bagheri.

Stepping It Up: Three Medals for the Region in Greco-Roman Wrestling

Iran’s Omid Haji Noroozi celebrates his victory on the on the Men’s 60Kg Greco-Roman wrestling at the ExCel venue during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 6, 2012. REUTERS/Adrees Latif (BRITAIN)

After a fantastic weekend showing, athletes from the Middle East and North Africa continue to impress, bringing home yet another three medals (in addition to that awarded to Habiba Ghribi) today.

Omid Haji Noroozi, an Iranian wrestler, took home a gold medal today in Men’s 60kg Greco-Roman wrestling. This is the first Olympic Games for the young athlete from Shiraz.
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